Thetis Receiving the Weapons of Achilles from Hephaestus
Thetis, how could you join forces
with Van Dyck letting your hero’s arms
for cupids to rejoice and use as toys?
You both seem to have got it wrong
as many things in this canvas are off-sight,
though being artistically god-damn right.
Take the shape of the shield –
measuring the man, realist van Dyck
turned Homer’s epic round design
into an efficient breastplate,
but neither the pushing hands
of smith and cupid, nor the aid of Thetis
can lift this naturalistic motive
to the original first ekphrastic narrative.
Further down the trend
is the mocking of the hero
by putting his big helmet
onto the small cupid’s head,
and its crumbling creates a bad omen,
as any Homeric man would have said;
and which van Dyck knew first-hand,
as the fall from the wall of his portrait
of archbishop Laud pre-cursed
his holiness’ fall from grace to grave.
I get it that Van Dyck’s playful points
could count as a lively antithesis
to his stiff dressed-to-impress age,
but such a childish detail
can hardly be an emancipating tool
for the poignant Homeric ideal.
I get the counter point – an artistic deride
of the ancient hyperbolism, as van Dyck
wanted to turn myth into a daily bread
for the hero-hungry world,
but the juxtaposed steps
of graceful Thetis and clumsy Hephaestus
can hardly make a resolving stride.
Above all, the heart of the matter cries:
why Thetis, why did you order a shield,
since you created his guarding coat
with the dip in the waters of Styx
and knew the only spot that remained unwashed –
why didn’t you order Achilles a protection
for his now proverbial heel,
stamped by your holding hand?
Answers van Dyck – brushing the light
from the unseen furnace to iconize her face,
and sending her train like fireball to unfold
upon the ultimate perspective of God,
stretching infinitely her troubled thought,
but holding the looming future undisclosed,
while all the rest are amused
with demystifying the crux,
no one grasping the simple factual flaw,
where Fate normally nests her blow.
By default, they all fill the off-sight bill;
while the hero’s doomed spirit reels in the air
and in the mind of the wired beholder.
Myth and reality, mother and art, cupid and smith
bestowing and withholding to revive anew
the idolized paradigm in one go
until mother Earth’s face is burnished with its glow!
Ekaterina Dukas, MA, has studied and taught linguistics and culture at Universities of Sofia, Delhi and London and authored a book on medieval art for the British Library. She writes poetry as a pilgrimage to the meaning and her poems appeared in The Ekphrastic Review, its challenges and Poetrywivenhoe among others. Her poetry collection Ekphrasticon is published by Europa Edizioni, 2021.
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